From Building Networks to Consuming Them

Now that the network layer is becoming virtualized both in and out of the data center, enterprises will have to get used to the idea of consuming networks as services rather than building and maintaining them as infrastructure.

In many ways, this will be easier — and far cheaper — than the current model, but it is by no means a walk in the park. As knowledge workers and their applications become more autonomous in their use of data resources, IT will have to find ways to manage these activities without stifling the innovation and creativity that virtual environments are meant to engender.

According to Technavio, the global network as a service market is poised to grow by 35.76 percent per yearfor the remainder of the decade. This will be driven by the need to produce highly scaled, highly flexible data architectures in the cloud to handle the increased diversity of applications and services that fuel the digital economy. The services on the network layer of this arrangement range from basic connectivity to management, control and security, all of which can be much more easily provided through software than by traditional fixed hardware platforms. And through managed service provider contracts, organizations can essentially outsource the operational side of the network as well, allowing internal staff to focus more directly on core business functions.

The network services industry is still in its infancy, having only recently unveiled what can be considered enterprise-class platforms in the past year or so. So it isn’t surprising that the roll-out phase is seeing its share of hiccups. A recent IDC survey of network executives around the world indicates that current offerings are not meeting enterprise expectations in critical areas like security, cloud support and mobility. Part of this is due to the disconnect between what enterprises say they need from service providers and what the providers think is best for the enterprise. For instance, more than a quarter of enterprises see the lack of employee readiness for unified communications and collaboration (UCC) as a major barrier to network services adoption, while most providers don’t see it as an issue at all.

So what is the best way to gain optimal performance from a networking services platform? According to Delphi President Gary Audin, the keys to a successful “Third Network” are the SLA and proper budgeting. With the SLA, the enterprise needs to ensure that it covers the wide range of expected usage patterns that will emerge over time. The key here is to ensure you have proper, independently verifiable data on which SLA reports are based, with monitoring drilled down to the second to account for the performance fluctuations of real-time apps. With budgeting, the chief goal is to implement safeguards for on-demand resource provisioning, particularly as this transitions from human operators to intelligent apps and devices.

Of course, the move to a service-based network architecture represents more than just a technological change. As Juniper’s Colin Evans notes on, it also alters the organizational structure of the enterprise. The CTO, for example, becomes much more future-focused by taking on responsibility for standards development, impact assessment and other functions, while the CIO shifts toward operations by supporting DevOps and web services orchestration. Meanwhile, marketing and sales teams become more steeped in technology and the way it defines new business opportunities and revenue streams.

To be sure, a network services architecture will do much to eliminate the problems that hamper data productivity at the moment: siloed resources, lack of scale, inflexible configurations. But it will also introduce new challenges surrounding visibility, predictive management and code-based operational processes.

The days of manually configuring network devices and establishing fixed data pathways may be coming to an end, but the age of app-centric network software development is just beginning.

Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for Enterprise Networking Planet and IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.

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